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“The Elasticity of Fame”

The Elasticity of Fame

Cynthia’s Column June 2008

I have been immortalized in rubber.  Which leads me to ponder on the springy, elastic nature of a free-lance writing career.  Sometimes shooting into the air like a rubber band from a kid’s finger. Sometimes stretched so thin it’s amazing we spring back.

After eighteen days in a motel, as I wrote last month, we finally closed on the new house and took possession.  This in itself was a miracle of putting “The Secret” into practice.  Daily imagining in great (and happy detail) living in this dream house.  No plan B.  No backup.  No second choice.  No retreat.  No surrender.  No guts.  No glory.  Or why be so negative?  Why not Guts!  Glory!  On my third mortgage broker (after the first two and my accountant all told me I couldn’t get a mortgage loan for this house.  Not in this mortgage market crisis.) I finally got my loan and my home and the key and our imagined version of being in the house, became us (my novelist sister Laura and me) actually being in the house.

The furniture had spent all this time in the moving van.  On Wednesday they delivered beds and bookcases.  Two tips in case you ever find yourself between houses.  Bekins will store your furniture for up to 30 days free.  And Public Storage often has a “first month for $1” special going.  And they are individually owned franchises.  Between Laura and me, we had five storage units in three different towns.  Okay, don’t say it.  We have too much stuff.  I know, I know.  Much of it books.

The next day, Thursday, I walked away from the gigantic chaos of home and was flown down to L.A. to appear on a panel of women screenwriters for the annual “Women in Focus” event at Chapman University in Orange County.  I had to tear through many boxes to find clothes I could wear to such a thing.  And shoes.  And socks for that matter.  But I managed to find barely enough items to cobble together an “I’m a Professional Writer” outfit.  I stayed with a friend in La Canada and the next morning a limo with a driver in a uniform arrived to chauffeur me to the event.  Hmm.  Nice.  It’s been awhile since a uniformed man appeared at my door that didn’t work for one of the postal services.

First there was a luncheon in one of the two professional soundstages of the film school at Chapman.  Stage lighting.  Linens.  Major floral arrangements.  I sat with a couple after whom the film school had been named in honor of a $20 million donation that built, among other things, the sound stage we were lunching in that is better than anything at UCLA.  They were chatting about having had dinner at Arnold and Maria’s house the night before and how they had two political signs in the yard of the Governor’s mansion.  On the right hand side of the driveway was McCain.  On the left Obama.  I loved that being the governor’s wife didn’t mean she had to abandon her Kennedy Democratic roots.

Next to me Laura Ziskin dropped into a chair.  She was moderating the panel.  If you don’t know, Laura is famous for producing all three Spiderman movies and being one of the few women studio heads in history, when she helmed Fox Searchlight 2000 and championed things like Fight Club.  She’s the only woman to produce the Oscars show.  Oh and she also produced movies like Pretty Woman and As Good As It Gets. Stuff like that.  She’s married to writer Alvin Sargent and she’s almost a year older than me.  What’s not to like?  Did I mention she’s crazy smart and funny as well?

She is also the producer at Columbia who optioned Marc Acito’s novel How I Paid for College so I didn’t hesitate to tell her about the Marc/Cynthia play Holidazed slated for production in November at Portland’s Artists Rep.

The panel was held in a lovely theatre with plush velvet seats, flowers between the overstuffed leather armchairs onstage and high tech mikes that you don’t have to clip on or hold or anything.  They’re just kind of there between the seats and magically amplify your voice.

They showed clips on a huge movie screen behind us from our films.  Let me tell you about my fellow panelists:

Susannah Grant wrote Erin Brockovich for which she was nominated for an Oscar.  Along with Julia and Erin.  Also In Her Shoes, 28 Days, Ever After and Catch and Release (which she also directed.)  Her latest The Soloist, stars Robert Downey Jr, currently the hottest middle-aged movie star in town.

Leslie Dixon wrote Outrageous Fortune, Overboard, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Thomas Crown Affair, Pay It Forward, Freaky Friday, and Hairspray.  (And somehow managed to keep her birth date out of IMDB.  If you look me up the headline screams Feb. 14, 1951!)  Her list of credits, obviously, is awesome.  And to top it off her grandmother was legendary Depression era photographer Dorothea Lange.

Karen McCullah Lutz wrote Ten Things I Hate About You (which made Heath Ledger a star), Legally Blonde (which did the same for Reese Witherspoon), Ella the Enchanted, and the upcoming Bride Wars.  Also the upcoming House Bunny in which Anna Faris plays a Playboy Bunny that gets kicked out of The Mansion.  Sounds fun.

Dana Stevens wrote the Kevin Costner baseball movie For Love of the Game, Blink, Life or Something Like It (Angelina Jolie) and City of Angels which starred Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.

And what am I doing up there with these writers?  I’m a T.V. movie writer.  They showed clips of our films and I was afraid TV movies couldn’t stand up to stuff like Erin B and Legally B for sound bites and cleverness and glamorous glossiness.  And they didn’t quite, but I had my moments.  Maybe not Julia Roberts moments, but Jason Robards, Brendan Fraser, Martin Sheen, Anjelica Huston, Melanie Griffith, and Gabriel Byrne didn’t let me down.  And when they showed the climactic scene from Selma, Lord, Selma where Martin Luther King, Jr. leads the civil rights marchers across the Edmund Pettis Bridge and the National Guard pulls back and lets them cross, I even got choked up.  I hadn’t seen this one on a big screen before.

Everyone was kind and generous and we seemed to be a big hit.  The audience was comprised primarily of young women film students and it was important for them to see that women can do this.  It was important to me when I was a young writer to hear women like Fay Kanin and Harriet Frank Jr. talk about their careers.  If they could do it, why not me?  If I can do it, why not other young women?  So this was a lovely and heady afternoon.  I floated out, clutching a crystal engraved sort of trophy which they gave each of us to commemorate the day.  And my chauffeur drove me back across two counties through the L.A. traffic.  When the jam got too bad, he hopped off the freeway, being a former cab driver, and we wound our way through the streets of downtown L.A. where amazingly there were no cars at all.  We drove past Felipe’s, a historic eatery near Chinatown where we used to cut school and run out for lunch when I was at Pasadena High.  And I saluted the ghost of my young dreamy ambitious self, eating French dip roast beef sandwiches on rolls with drama nerd friends that decades of life couldn’t improve on.

I came home to, of course, a gigantic mess of towering cardboard full of things no one could possibly need, unable to find stuff I do need like the phone and the printer and speakers for my computer.  (Still can’t find these and, by the way, 1200 songs on itunes are totally worthless without speakers.)  Very quiet here.  Being a playwright.  And a former T.V. writer.  Getting only a couple of calls about potential gigs since the end of the WGA strike.

And then I received my own surprise award made out of rubber, as I mentioned above.  One of the students in my Masters Class ordered one for everyone in the class.  A Superman-blue rubber bracelet and on it the touching inscription:  What would Cynthia Do?  Just like that, I sproinged back to feeling famous.  Me and Jesus.  We’ve got our own bracelets.

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